Politics & Government

Alaska Sens. Murkowski, Begich hesitant to support climate bill

A much-anticipated bill to address climate change and future U.S. energy policy made its debut Wednesday and was met with interest from Alaska's senators but no outright expression of support.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. and Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., already has an uncertain future, even though the House of Representatives has passed its own measure and the White House supports climate change legislation.

If it is going to pass, it will need the support of both of Alaska's senators -- and those from other energy-producing states. It will be particularly important for Lieberman and Kerry -- who no longer have as a co-sponsor Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- to try to sway Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Murkowski said she hadn't yet taken a close look at the 987-page legislation, but planned to sit down today with her energy staff. She said she has told the bill's sponsors all along that it sounded interesting, but until she saw the actual language it "doesn't make sense to be critical and take it apart -- or to offer praise."

"I was genuine when I told Senator Kerry: 'I'm going to take a look at it and see what we really have out there,' " she said.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said he remains uncommitted, but that he does like some provisions of the legislation for Alaska. In particular, he likes that the bill keeps offshore drilling on the table in Alaska. He also likes a revenue-sharing provision that allows states where there is offshore drilling in federal waters to share in some of the revenue from leases and production.

What he's seen so far suggests that the bill "protects our rights as a state to determine with the federal government what are the right areas for oil and gas production."

Right now, "two or three of the must-have priorities" for Alaska are in the bill, Begich said, but he added, "I need to see more of what the whole bill does."

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